All About Mary

All About Mary

| 14 | Chess Players

      Mary Weiser Bain always seemed to have gotten lost in the shadows of Mona May Karff and Gisela Gresser.  But this pioneer of women's chess in the United States played no less a role.  While Gresser was home-grown, Mary Bain was born in Hungary in 1904 (Edith Weart wrote: "Mrs. Bain having been born in what was then Hungary, now Czechoslovakia").   An immigrant, like Karff (who was born in the then Tsarist province of Bessarabai, now Moldovia, and moved to Boston in her teens), Bain lived in New York (listed as living in Astoria, NY in 1937).  According to Jennifer Shahade in "Chess Bitch," Mary was sent by her mother to to New York to join her sister when she was 17 (1921) because her father went MIA in World War I.  Speaking only Hungarian, she had to learn English after her arrival. 

     She married Leslie Balogh Bain in 1926.

      Her husband, Leslie was a newspaperman, war correspondent, radio producer, film director and political author.  Born in 1901, Bain was of Irish and Hungarian extraction and took a lifelong interest in Hungarian political events.  He worked for the "Daily News," the "New York Reporter" and for the North American Newspaper Alliance. He was fluent in Hungarian and he visited Hungary several times. 
     He published several books: "The War of Confusion" (1942); "Chaos or Peace" (1943); "The Reluctant Satellites: An Eyewitness Report on East Europe and the Hungarian Revolution" (1960).  I was able to procure a copy of "The Reluctant Satellites" and found Bain's writing heartfelt, poignant, touching and insightful.

     Leslie and Mary Bain had two children, Mitchell (born in California in 1927) and Eva (born in California in 1929). Mary and Leslie divorced in 1948.

     According to "The Encyclopaedia of Chess"  by Anne Sunnucks:
BAIN, Mary (1904-1972) International Woman Master (1952) and United States Woman Champion 1951-1953. Born in Hungary where she learned to play chess as a schoolgirl, she later became a pupil of Frank Marshall and Geza Maroczy.
After the death of her husband Leslie Bain, author, war correspondent and film director, Mary opened and ran a duplicate bridge club in New York which left her little time for chess. She played for the United States in the Women's Olympiad of  1963. She died on 26th October 1972.

     I'm not sure about the details of this entry since Mary was divorced in 1948 then opened her chess studio in the middle 1950s (I haven't been able to find anything to support her alleged interest in Bridge). Mr. Bain died in 1962.   However, the short blurb introduces her association with Frank Marshall and Géza Maróczy.   Bain was a member of the Marshall Club, so her contact with Frank Marshall is easily understandable.  The Maróczy connection needs some elucidation.   Maróczy was exiled from Hungary after WWI, probably for political reasons, and was forced to wander for 7 years. According to Hans Kmoch, he lived in Austria, Switzerland, Holland, England and New York.  In New York, he helped organize the 1927 tournament during his last year of exile.  He resided at Mary's apartment during his New York stay and she undoubtedly gained some pointers just as Vera Menchik had during his stay in Hastings.


Mary Bain in 1937

     Mary Bain's name first rose to the surface long before she came in second in the National Chess Federation chess tournament at the Marshall Chess Club in 1937.  In 1933 she drew her game as one of 23 boards in a simul given by Capablanca (The story is that Capablanca resigned on move 11, after which Bain offered him a draw which he accepted).


The following article appeard in the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" on March 15, 1936


Shunned Chess Fame to Raise Her Family

Mrs. Mary Bain Looks Like an Artist but Her
Game Has Won Praise of Casablanca
Thinks all Should Play

     The first time you see Mrs. Mary Bain you think you've come to the wrong place.  She wraps her hair around her head in braid fashion, looks a little Bohemian - the Left Bank kind - and suggests some one who will say modern art is contemplative or something.
     Then all of a sudden, she gets around to chess and you discover the subject is as delightful to her as ice cream sliding down your throat when your head is on fire.
     Except for a few trifling reasons, Mrs. Bain probably could run off with the female title: experts consider her one of the best chess players in the counry.
                                                   Shunned Training
    When Maroczy, internationally known chess player, wanted to train her for the women's title of the world, she said no because: one, Mr. Bain; two, Eva Bain, 6½; three Mitchell Bain, 8½.  She says she never regretted her answer.
     Still chess is her favorite subject. "There is so much beauty in it.  I believe everyone should know how to play chess.  A nice position is just like a beautiful painting.  You are locked out.  You are in a different world.
                                                  Learned in Hungary
     Her introduction to the game came about when she was a child in Hungary.  Her mother taught her the first moves.  Coming to America whan  young girl, she discovered that being a good chess player had excellent social advantages.  Unable to speak the English language, she was left quite alone on deck.  About the second day out Mary decided to set up her chess board.
     Soon she had a partner.  Several partners, in fact.  And besides them, an audience - but none with whom she could exchange a single common word.  The captain heard about this chess-plating passenger and instructed the purser to arrange a match in the salon that evening.  The master, according to Mary Bain, never quite recovered from his defeat.
     Today she knows all the important chess players and can tell you that Hollywood's game isn't so good, generally speaking.  She organized the town's chess club and got herself quite a reputation with the intellects of the West Coast.  Her husband is an assistant director out there.
                                                   Held Borochow to Draw
     When Borochow played a series of games in California, the reported score in the newspaper read: "He won every game except a draw with Mrs. Bain.
     She has played with Capablanca and though he liked her game, Mrs. Bain still insists "I m such a little nobody."
     If you stick to the technical side of chess, though, Mrs. Bain will go on for hours.
     She happens to be a position player and doesn't believe in taking chances. Mrs. Bain prefers the out-and-out counter attacking to defensive moving.  She has a partiality for the Queen's Gambit opening.
     "I usually like that opening.  It is the strongest and, of course, the most played."
     Mrs. Bain considers chess a very revealing game for it demands a keen mind.
                                                    Easy to Learn, She Says
     "It is, she says, "a form of intellectual productiveness.  Like Tarrasch, I believe that chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.  The trouble with most people is that they have their minds set that the game is hard.  It is not hard.  You can learn it in an hour -- I have taught quite a few in that time.  But to the ordinary person it is too much effort.  That should not be.  Everybody should know how to play chess."
     Mrs. Bain believes that once a chess player, always a chess player.  You can't help yourself.

Mary fell into a fortuitous situation in 1937.  The winner of the Marshall Chess Club tournament was to represent the United States in the Women's World Championship being held in Stockholm, Sweden.  Adele Rivero, the winner, was unable to travel, so second-placed Mary Bain, who was a newcomer to tournament chess, never expecting to do very well against such an array of female champions, came in fifth, scoring 8½ points, only 1½  points behind the second place winner (although 5½ points behind the amazing Vera Menchik, the runaway winner).  She also scored ½ point more than Mona May Karff, a Bostonian who was playing for Palestine.   Considering that Bain was the only contestant who had no second and who was totally uncoached makes her modest success all the more impressive.  After the tournament Mrs. Bain stayed in Europe for the summer.  She gave several simultaneous exhibitions. One of them, held in what is now Helsinki, was against fifteen strong male players in which she won 5, lost 6 and drew 4.   During her return cruise, she gave a 10 board simul, winning 8, losing and draw 1 each.  She also gave a talk on Chess.  The Holland-America line presented her with a silver cup in recognition.   Returning to New York, she gave a simul against 8  members of the Women's Chess Club, winning all the games.

      Mary once again placed second in the 1938 tournament, the first one specifically for the national title of U.S. Women's Champion, but this time she lost to Mona May Karff (who inexplicably started calling herself N. May Karff) yet surprisingly came in ahead of Adele Rivero.

     In 1938, driving home in the rain from the A.F.C. Congress (the U.S. Open) in Boston,  Mary Bain and fellow chess players, Mrs. McCready and Miss Edith Weart,  were involved in an accident in which they struck a telephone pole.  Miss McCready seemed to have suffered minor injuries; Miss Weart was pinned under the car and sustained a fracture to her shoulder; Mary Bain, however, suffered a fractured vertebra which required her to be in a cast for eight months, bedridden for much of that time.  During her convalescence she took up correspondence chess.

     The following year, 1939, Mary Bain tied with N. May Karff and Dr. Helen Weissenstein for first place (Rivero didn't participate).  A play-off was supposed to have taken place, but for some reaon either never took place or wasn't reported on.

     In 1940, Mary Bain slipped and tied for fourth place. Adele Rivero returned to carry away the contest, far ahead of second placed Karff.   The 1941 championship was determined by a match between Rivero and Karff (Karff won).

     Bain came in fourth in 1942 behind Karff, Rivero (now Belcher), Nancy Roos and Gisela Gresser (a polymath who had only learned to play in 1938).

     The next tournament, which took place in 1944, was unattended by Bain (and won by Gresser).  There was no tournament in 1945.  Like several other chess masters (Gresser was another), Mary Bain donated part of her war-years time bringing chess to the soldiers, especially the wounded.

"Miami News," Aug. 4, 1945

     In 1946, Mary once again placed second behind Karff in the women's championship. The two ladies had tied the previous August in the women's event at Pan-Am Congress held in Los Angeles:


Mary Bain 1946


     The next women's championship took place in 1948.  This time, our unfortunate subject fell behind both Gresser and Karff who tied for first place. 

     The July 24, 1949 issue of the "St. Petersburg Times" had an article about Mrs. Bain by Dr. A. B. Fergunson.  Below is an excerpt from that article:
     Mary Bain, while attending high school in her native Hungary, found chess quite popular among the pupils and on returning to her country home, she expressed a desire to learn the game. Her mother, who had played chess in her youth, taught Mary the first moves.  The latter immediately became a chess enthusiast.
     Shortly after the first World War she left Hungary for her first exhibition game in America.  She expected a dull and lonely ocean trip because, although she spoke Rumanian [sic], German and Ukrainian fluently, she knew no English.  When on the first day out the steward passed out games, Mrs. Bain asked for a chess set, planning to amuse herself with the game.  Apparently the passenger list was filled with chess players and the next day a German-speaking acquaintance and the ship's captain made a date with her for a game in the evening.  When she arrived in the salon, many passengers were gathered to watch the match.  It was Mary Bain's first exhibition game and she won.
     Here in America she attended schools to learn the English language.  She eventually married, reared two children and kept up her interest in chess.

As the century reached its midpoint, Mary Bain's chess career hadn't yet reached its highpoint . . .

     When the next women's championship rolled around in 1951, Mary Bain finally won, thanks in part to a bitter 107 draw against Gresser who had the advantage of 3 pawns and a Bishop to Bain's two pawns and a Knight but had to contend with Bain's threat to evoke the 50-move rule. 

     An interview with Mary Bain in the "Milwaukee Journal," April 28, 1952, called "Chess Is Not Old Man's Game; Women Can Play to Stay Young, Says Expert," gives us a bit more insight into Mrs. Bain:
Chess is more than fun for Mary Bain, however.  It is her very life.  She glows when she talks about it, her eyes  and voice soft with wonderment at its "infinite variety and richness."  Although she has lived in this country since she was 17,  when she came from Zugo, Hungary as a teen age chess prodigy, she still has a slight, appealing accent and a becoming air of uncertainty about the language.  
     She began to play chess at 15, she explains, because she liked problems and enjoyed solving them.  When she met and fell in love with an American newspaper man, Leslie Bain, he learned to play chess too.  After dinner each night they would have "just one chess game" to decide who was to wash the dishes.
     "He got to be an awfully good dish washer, " she said sweetly.
. . .
     There is no difference between a man's mind and a woman's mind, she feels.  It is unfortunate that "in this country only" men chess players never believe a woman can attain their level.  In her case this attitude had been more or less a challenge.  She is finding the exhibitions, in which she plays against a number of men, pleasantly stimulating.  For years leading chess clubs of the country would not admit women as members, but now Mrs. Bain is a member of the Marshall and Manhattan clubs, two of the top chess clubs in the country.
     She actually enjoyed chess more as a beginner than she does now because, when she plays a tournament and must make 40 moves in two hours by the clock, or perhaps move every 10 seconds, she plays "for blood," whereas a beginner can and should play for fun.
. . .

She gets many letters from strangers was well as "about 400 personal friends" and tries valiantly to answer them all.  When she is in New York she teaches chess to children and college boys and girls, because she feels it has a special benefits for the young.
     "Chess prepares children for a healthy adulthood for several reasons.  It is a problem solving game, and one in which they become so interested they do not have time for delinquency.  Chess is like a miniature battlefield and you are the general.  You must use tactics and strategy, and that appeals to all boys and girls."
     All that it takes to play chess and love it, she says, is the interest in doing something constructive.  A child learns to enjoy besting an opponent on the chess battlefield, and the mental exercise involved stands him in good stead all his life.
     She has looked forward to visiting Milwaukee because it is known as an important chess center, and is one of the few cities in which chess is taught at social centers.
     When she herself was a child and was just beginning to know the richness of combinations and the variety of the game, she visualized herself, some day, as an old, old lady, playing chess with children.
     "But I think I'll be young at 90," she says, "because chess and the children keep me that way."

In 1952, Mary Bain was also awared the WIM title.

Around the middle 1950s, Mary Bain opened a Chess Studio on 145 West 42th Street, N.Y.C.  It was used for tournaments as well as general chess.  Eventually she sold the studio to Larry Evans and Aaron Rothman.

1962 Women's Chess Championship was won by Gisela Gresser who lost no games. Lisa Lane, the defending champion, came in second; her two losses were at the hands of Gresser and 5th place Mary Bain. Bain lost only two games but had 4 draws to Lane's 1. Bain's win over Lane is shown below.

Along with Gisela Gresser, Mary Bain represented the U.S. in the 1963 Women's Chess Olympiads (Bain's only Olympiad involvement). The U.S. came in 9th place.  Whilte Gresser scored 8 pts. (+6=4-4), Bain only scored 4.5 pts. (+3=3-8).  An interesting aside: Lisa Lane publicly criticized the USCF for chosing Mary Bain, rather than herself, to participate. She claimed discrimination - "It's just because I'm young and fairly pretty. I think they just don't like me - they're jealous of me."  The official explanation was that both Bain and Gresser offered to pay their own expenses and the Mary Bain had defeated Lisa Lane in their last tournament.  Gresser expressed that she had no objections to either player.

Mary Bain was the 1965 (shared with Kathryn Slater in Puerto Rico), 1966 (in Seattle) and the 1967 U.S. Women's Open Champion (Atlanta) - NY "Times," Sep 28, 1967.

Mary Bain died on October 26, 1972.

Below are a few of Mary Bain's games throughout the years.

Mary Bain's defeat of Capablanca in a simul.  Bain wouldn't accept the win and offered Capablanca a draw, the official result-

From the Women's World Championship Candidate's Tournament, Moscow 1952-

Mary Bain beats Charles Kalme who would be the US Junior Champion the following year-

Mary Bain's defeat of Lisa Lane in the 1962 U.S. Women's Chess Championship-

A lovely win against the Scottish player, Nancy Elder, i the 1963 Women's Chess Olympiads held in Yugoslavia-

61 year old Mary Bain beats John T. Westbrock, the 1965 NY State champion-


The final game is a loss by Mary Bain to the Danish master, Bent Larsen in the 1970 U.S. Open.  It was Larsen's first game in the event he eventually won. Bain was 66 at the time.

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